Although amino acids are traditionally associated with weight training, they can also be helpful to any one who exercises a lot, has a low-protein diet or is seriously trying to build muscle mass. First off, it’s helpful to define just what the heck amino acids are, anyway. Amino acids play a key role in the body, both as building blocks of proteins and as metabolism support.
The 20 (although the exact number is controversial) amino acids that are found within proteins are versatile—and complex. Humans can produce 10 of the 20 amino acids. The others must be supplied in the food. Failure to obtain enough of even one of the 10 essential amino acids, i.e. those that we cannot make, can significantly impact your physical and mental health. Unlike fat and starch, the human body does not store excess amino acids for later use—so they must be supplied every day.
To affect exercise performance and help with muscle breakdown, it’s the branch-chained amino acids (BCAA) that have the buzz—specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine. A study published in the International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism suggests that BCAA supplementation relieves muscle soreness and damage when ingested in recovery days.* Another study, published in the Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness found that in in glycogen-depleted participants, BCAAs helped relieve fatigue.*
Do you want some of that for yourself? A great way to start introducing BCAAs into your diet is through a protein powder. While there are many types of protein powders such as whey, casein, soy, rice, pea and hemp, to name a few, whey has the highest concentration of BCAAs.
However, vegans and other whey-avoiders need more options. There are certain foods that do contain high levels of the essential amino acids. Let’s take a closer look at the three essential amino acids—what they do and where they are found in foods.
Claim to fame: Leucine helps support muscle growth and supports blood sugar metabolism by moderating insulin into the body during and after exercise.*
Good sources: Eggs, game, chicken, fish, seaweed, pumpkin, peas and pea protein, whole grain rice, sesame seeds, watercress, turnip greens, soy, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, figs, avocados, raisins, dates, apples, blueberries, olives and even bananas.
Claim to fame: Isoleucine, isolated form of leucine, helps the body produce energy and hemoglobin.*
Good sources: Eggs, turkey, lamb, cheese, fish, meat, rye, soy, cashews, almonds, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice, cabbage, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cranberries, quinoa, blueberries, apples and kiwi fruit.
Claim to fame: Valine helps maintain proper cell and organ function and contributes to central nervous system function.*
Good sources: Eggs, turkey, lamb, soy, watercress, seaweed, beans, spinach, legumes, broccoli, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soy, peanuts, whole grains, figs, avocado, apples, sprouted grains and seeds, blueberries, cranberries, oranges and apricots.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.